TAIPEI, Taiwan – Vincentian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves was not offered a position within his country’s executive as part of the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Monday.
Callers to radio talk shows in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have suggested that the alleged proposal almost resulted in a rift within the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, 14 months into its third term in office.
“No, I was not approached. … I was aware of the various Cabinet reshuffle decisions because a newspaper had reported it — had speculated about it earlier than it actually took place. It has taken place now. But at no point between that newspaper article and the actual reshuffle did anyone approach me and make me any part of any Cabinet reshuffle or make me part of any discussion about any Cabinet reshuffle,” Gonsalves said in an I-Witness News/iMaculate iMagez interview on Wednesday.
Asked if he was approached before the newspaper article, Gonsalves said: “As far as I know, the government was re-elected, the Hon. Minister [Senator] Douglas Slater was made Foreign Minister and that is it as far as I know. There has been no attempt to woo me or anything like that for that position, although I am very honoured that you say my name was in discussion.”
Gonsalves is among three ambassadors from countries with diplomatic relations with Taiwan holding talks with the government here on the future of Taiwan-China relations and bilateral cooperation.
When asked if he would accept the position of Foreign Minter within the government, Gonsalves, who has been a diplomat for almost five years, responded:
“The new government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the re-elected government, is just over a year old. It has just undergone the first Cabinet shuffle of that period. I think it is beyond premature and I think it is disruptive for me to start speculating about if somebody offers me a ministerial post or if somebody doesn’t.
“I was not offered one, a reshuffle happened and I think this would be really bad time for me to start saying, ‘But, however, if I am offered I would take or I would not take. So I don’t think it is an appropriate time for me to discuss that sort of a thing.”
Gonsalves, the son of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, has said publicly that he would enter electoral politics if the people of SVG ask him to.
He however said that he has no plans of entering electoral politics before 2015, when the next general election is constitutionally due.
He reiterated that the new government is still new and was recently reconfigured. “…I don’t think it is appropriate for someone who is a member of the elected government, as I am, to start bandying about whether or not I am interested.
“The questions that would naturally follow would be: Where is he going to run? Who is he going to replace? And those sorts of questions don’t do any service to the government that I serve. It would be incredibly selfish of me to start to inject myself into those sorts of conversation.”
Gonsalves said that while discussions about his potential entry into politics might occupy the minds of “political junkies”, “the man on the street in St. Vincent and the Grenadines isn’t talking about Camillo Gonsalves and whether or not he should be running”.
He said that Vincentians too often put their personal ambition “ahead of a substantive purpose in electoral politics”.
“You hear people saying they want to be the youngest prime minister. You hear people saying they want to be the first woman prime minister. You hear people saying they want to be a left-handed prime minister. But, have they told you their vision? Have they articulated an ideology or philosophy of how to move the country forward?
“And if they have done that — stated their philosophy — have they then followed up and say ‘These are the policies and programmes that I would put in place to make that vision a reality’? No body does that anymore. People just say ‘I want to be prime minister or I want to be a representative.’ But representative to do what?”
Gonsalves said that the first step should include the prospective representative articulating a vision, thereby allowing constituents to decide if they want that individual to represent them.
“… I am in New York for four years. How would it look for me to be up in my perch in New York saying I want to be this or that? I think that is putting the cart before the horse. I think that the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have to have a greater say in who their representatives are. And I don’t mean on election day … but in choosing the people who should be competing in it. And we are far from that happening.”
Gonsalves said that the opposition New Democratic Party, having lost three consecutive elections, might begin discussing candidates sooner than the ULP.
“I would be more interested, at this stage of the game, in discussing ideas. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small country with a lot of problems and I would rather be talking across both sides of the political divide about how we move the country forward in a way that we can all agree on rather than which individual should be doing this or that or the other, in furtherance of their own individual ambitions.”
Gonsalves said that stating political ambitions without outlining one’s ideology leads to individuals dragging down each other “because the other person is competing for your ambition.”
“And then what you get is what we have: a very divisive political atmosphere where people tear down one another, but there is precious little programmes and policies to discuss.
“… if the time comes that my name is put forward or I put my name forward, we will cross that bridge when we get to it,” Gonsalves further stated, adding that he didn’t think there was any clamour for a decision from me at that point.
“I think there are far more important issues to be discussing in the second year of a five-year term than who would be running in 2015.”
Gonsalves said that while Vincentians might know his name, they might know him more because he is the son of the Prime Minister.
“Yes, I have been the Permanent Representative [to the U.N.] and I believe I have done some good work. But I don’t know how much that is something occupying the minds of people on a day-to-day basis. So, I think I have a record that people may come to know. They may, or may not, find it attractive and they may, or may not, make decisions about whether they see something about me in that regard.
“But, I honestly don’t feel that this is some sort of imminent decision that has to be made, either by me or by the people. And I think we have better things to focus our time on. We can’t just lurch from election to election. We have to govern in the meantime and that is what is what I am focused on at this time,” Gonsalves said.